I didn’t think much when I saw the scruffy black furred creature sitting in our kitchen. Her face seemed too long, her body too stout. She was downright unappealing to look at. At first.
Her name, much like herself, appeared out of nowhere. Jenn was taken with Topeka the day she found her. A stray puppy limping (due to a break in her front right leg) and no one to claim her. My affection for Topeka grew over time. It could have been the unvarnished zeal she exuded while running around our tiny apartment. Or maybe it was the ghost of a smile that appeared when she looked up at me with her tongue wagging.
As a puppy and young dog Topeka found ways to defy us. On several occasions she bolted when we opened the door. Jenn and I walked Topeka on a retractable leash at a nearby church. One day we were walking around the church’s retention pond. Jenn was on the opposite side of the pond when I dropped the leash. Topeka sensed my fumble and shifted from first to fifth gear. I frantically yelled and motioned to Jenn, indicating the leash was no longer in my possessions. “GET HER!” I said. Jenn didn’t understand what I said and didn’t notice Topeka’s new-found freedom. I held up my hands to indicate the predicament. That’s when Jenn ran and caught Topeka.
A few years later Topeka’s status as “Only Dog” ended. To this day I am convinced she held this against us, as if the three of us were in a relationship when an interloper showed up, bags in hand, and refused to leave. Topeka’s relationship with this new mongrel fluctuated. One moment she could be enjoying a run around the yard or tugging on a rope with the new puppy and the next Topeka would be snarling and barking at him. Though half the weight and size of the new dog, Topeka remained the Alpha until the end.
Before Penelope our pets meant the world to us. Especially Topeka. Her Corgi herding instincts annoyed the cats as she tried to move them along with barks and jumps, but she was always affectionate to people. Strangers and vets commented on how cute Topeka was. When someone new presented themselves her little black tail would drop and wag. When my responsibilities were scarce and afternoon naps more plentiful Topeka often joined me, laying next to or sometimes on top of me.
I always feared Topeka’s early injury would result in debilitating arthritis. Though her leg would shake when she stood on it for any length of time she never developed any pain. In deed her health was always superb. As she advanced in age and the bursts of momentum became infrequent, Topeka was strong and keen. At times when I looked in her eyes I got the impression she was aware in a mystical way.
We will never know what ailment felled our dear dog. We brought her to the vet when her appetite waned and she began vomiting. Anti-nausea medication and antibiotics did nothing to help. Last Thursday I brought Topeka back to the vets after waking up to a huge pile of bloody vomit near her cage. Our vet, a thorough and detailed man, laid out the possibilities. His explanations became so detailed I sensed he was leading to an unwelcome conclusion. And I was right. Topeka could have had an obstruction, though this seemed implausible. Pancreatitis and cancer were more likely based on the symptoms. We could elect for a specialist to examine her or for our vet to operate. We declined both. Topeka was well into her 13th year. She was already weak from not eating for days. Euthanasia was the only option left. I asked the vet if there was something the he could do to get us to Saturday, relatively pain-free, so we could have more time with Topeka. He gave her an injections and sent us home.
The turnaround was so remarkable that Jenn and I wondered if she was completely misdiagnosed and on the road to recovery. But by Saturday evening the drug ceased its efficacy and Topeka was worse.
Monday afternoon Topeka and I arrived at the vet. I took off her collar and carried her into the clinic. My fragile composure rattled with every “I’m so sorry” the staff offered. The vet was booked all day and agreed to work me in. I held Topeka on the examining table, brushing my hands across her coarse black fur, wondering why her skin was so dry and how stray white hairs in her coat escaped my notice until now. Her frame shook until I scooped her up and sat on a bench with her pressed against my chest. She relaxed.
I signed the consent paperwork. I paid the bill. The vet walked in with a syringe of pink fluid. Moments later the needle was in her leg. A drop of blood met the deadly cocktail and danced slowly to the bottom. This was the last moment I could say “Stop! This is a mistake.” But it wasn’t a mistake. Topeka would not get better. Her life would collapse further into misery and suffering. Keeping her in this state would be for our sakes, not Topeka’s.
At 3:30 Topeka lay on the table, still and peaceful. I cried as my hands rolled over her sides for the last time. As I drove home with her shrouded body I screamed. And when I got home, opened the bag, and allowed our other dog to sniff and inspect Topeka’s body I wept.
My memories of Topeka are fond ones. Jenn and I miss her so much. Penelope is trying to understand. I wish she didn’t have to. Not yet anyway.
When Jenn and I bought our first house in 2002 we let Topeka have free reign. Until one day Jenn came home and found huge black spots all over the brand new carpet and Topeka chewing on a pen, her mouth covered in ink. Jenn was furious and spent hours cleaning. By the time I got home the carpet was spotless. If Jenn had never told me I would have been none the wiser. Soon afterwards we were laughing about the incident.
That’s how life with Topeka was. Even when she was getting into trouble we could laugh about it later. For every moment of “bad dog behavior” there are a thousand times she made us smile. We loved her and times we had with her.
She was a good dog.
In loving memory
2000 – 2014